December 17, 2012 Attachment, attachment challenges, Kelley 9 Comments

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we have faced with our 4-year-old daughter is helping her find a new way to self-soothe. One crucial piece of information that her caretakers failed to tell us on adoption day was that Grace (and presumably all the babies in her orphanage) sucked on a scrap of cloth in the same way that many babies suck on pacifiers. Had we known this, we would have had much easier nights while in China. That was the only time she felt very vulnerable and scared, and I walked the halls of our hotels for hours with her in a carrier so that the motion might lull her to sleep. It was home in America after feeding Grace a bottle that she discovered the burp cloth in my hand and immediately began carrying one with her at all times. Whenever she would go to sleep or be upset, the “ca-ca” as she calls it would soothe and calm her.

For a while, I would check on her often to make sure she wasn’t choking on it. She can fit so much fabric in her mouth that it’s a wonder she doesn’t wake up with an aching jaw or sore throat. Until this past summer, we allowed her to continue this habit. But several concerns arose. Her dentist warned that this sucking might result in changing the shape of her jaw and bite, causing some other issues. We also noticed that Grace was requesting (or pitching a fit) for her burp cloth if anything at all didn’t go her way. I tried verbal affirmation, hugs, and other strategies to teach her how to self-soothe, but she was becoming overly dependent on this little piece of material.

We finally convinced Grace to give up her ca-cas to her new baby sister. Things went well for awhile until Grace began to wrestle with the reality of her having a “China mommy” in China. She has also been very sad that she wasn’t ever in my tummy. In fact, this sadness has preoccupied her thoughts and conversations. Along with this emotional change emerged a newly intensified need to self-soothe by sucking. We have since found her sucking on her sheets in bed, sucking on her pillow, and even pushing her shirt into her mouth. With these realizations she’s working through, I am tempted to let her have her beloved ca-cas back. I try every way I can think of to make her feel loved, safe, secure, wanted, and cherished. But nothing can compete with that burp cloth that had soothed her since infancy.

It may seem silly that this whole post is about a piece of cloth. But the underlying issue is that our daughter has not yet learned to soothe herself as most children do. We want her to feel the freedom to express stress, sadness, or fear. But we also want to teach her healthy ways to cope. Overall, Grace is a very well-adjusted girl. But as in nearly all adoptions, we still have challenges to overcome and restoration of her soul that will take time.

9 responses to “Self-soothing”

  1. Stefanie says:

    That’s so tough. Several of my kiddos have a ‘lovey’ – two rub their loveys with their fingers to self-soothe, one rubs his across his lips, but we only see them do this at bedtime. It’s unfortunate that Grace’s way of self-soothing affects her teeth and jaw in such a way that it’s bad for her… it must be tough to see her struggling to find a way to cope with all the changes in her life. It sounds like you’re doing everything right… hang in there!

  2. Eileen says:

    Our son (from the same orphanage as Grace), came to us at nearly 4 years old. He didn’t appear to have any self-soothing techniques that I noticed in China, but when he got home, he became very attached to his pillow. For comfort, he sniffs his pillow. We’ll be out and about and I know he’s reached the end of his patience when he’ll say, “I just wish I was home sniffing my pillow.” He pitches a royal fit whenever I wash the pillowcase. Even if I wash it when he’s at school, he can smell immediately what I’ve done and he’s not happy. And when he really likes someone, he offers the biggest honor he can think of (which we quickly advise the person to DECLINE), when he says, “You wanna’ sniff my pillow?”

    One of my biological kids sucked on the end of her hair for comfort. It was truly gross. We got her a cute bob haircut, making the hair-sucking impossible, and then she sucked on the collar of her shirt. Also truly gross. With her, we did a reward system. If her collars were dry at lunchtime, she got a point and if it was dry by dinner she got a point. It’s been many years now and I don’t even remember the reward, but I know she got very into it and fairly quickly stopped her habit.

    Maybe with the other concerns she has going on, you could schedule a date for just the two of you? I know with other kids and busy schedules, it’s almost impossible, but it doesn’t have to be big. Maybe the two of you could go pick a new lovey, but the condition is she can’t put it into her mouth. She could “test drive” them by rubbing them on her cheek? Maybe she’d find that soothing?

    It’s tough. Our daughter used to self sooth by putting her thumb in her mouth and swaying back and forth. Thankfully she grew out of both as she became more confident.

    Hope you find an answer that’s perfect for your sweet girl.

    • Kelley says:

      Eileen, I had to giggle a little when I read that he asks people he likes to sniff his pillow. So cute!! 🙂 Thanks for the tips. We actually picked out a new lovey together on a mommy-Grace date, but that only worked for awhile. We do need another date together. I just ordered her a soft blanket that I sprayed with my perfume (which she loves) and said she can hug it but not put it in her mouth, We’ll see if it works. That’s a great idea to have her rub it on her cheek.

      Stefanie, thanks for the encouragement as well!

  3. Eileen says:

    Spraying it with perfume is a great idea! Hopefully it will accomplish 2 things–help equate the smell of Mom with comfort, and maybe a perfume wouldn’t be so tasty to put in your mouth!

  4. We haven’t adopted (yet) but struggle with this same issue with one of our biological children who had a brain infection at 3 years old and is now high functioning special needs. She reverted to infant behavior (and development) during her illness, and we had to feed her by bottle. The only way to calm her during the “brain storms” she had – and the epilepsy that followed and has stayed with her – was with her pacifier, which she had given up long before. Now she is 6 and slowly, slowly making progress with development, but there is NOTHING we can do to get the sucking under control! We’ve tried taking the Nuk at various occasions, weaning or going cold-turkey, but she just sucks on other things – furniture, pillows, her hair, her clothing, etc. I recently found some sucking/chewing implements designed for older children and/or adults who struggle with brain development or injury issues, and I’m going to give them a try for her. I’m going to try the chewable necklace – here’s what I found: just in case you’ve never seen stuff like this.

  5. Aus says:

    Kelly – it’s more than about a “piece of cloth” – its about one “commonality” all our adopted kids have – a “primal wound” if you will – abandonment. With our’s it re-surfaces from time to time – and sometimes when you least expect it! There’s nothing wrong with that piece of cloth – it’s a “touch stone” – it’s the “rope” on the Franciscan’s habit – it’s the “lucky rabbit’s foot” someone else carries as a key ring – it’s the “St. Michael’s Medal” around the neck of the cop on the corner. We all have them of one kind or another, surely there is something in your purse that is meaningless to me but of great value to you.

    If it brings comfort then what is the harm? She’ll find something else – and maybe I’m reading into your post – but the (I am sure well meaning) dentist didn’t say it WAS causing her mouth / bite to change – but that it MIGHT. G above also made a great post about the chewlery – an option as well – but I bet it won’t replace the ca-ca. With one of our daughters my bride made her a comfort blanket out of material that was embroidered with roses – she quickly settled on rubbing those roses against her lips and cheek and gave up the chewing part!

    Let her find her comfort – and from my chair – support her in that for now – because this is what she needs at this moment in time. Worry about the rest later – when she is better able to handle it. With age comes reason – and with reason comes ability!

    Just thoughts…hugs

  6. Kim O says:

    My daughter loved the thin, one layer cloth diapers. Thankfully they were available so I could buy more. She had one all the time. She didn’t suck on it as much as she sucked her thumb while rubbing the cloth with her hands and against her face. It was the smell too that made her enjoy it. As she got older, I cut them in half. Then later I cut them in 1/4ths. So all she had was a small scrap. She had/has so many sensory issues I hated taking the thing that comforted her the most. The strangest thing is that a friend gave her a Hershey chocolate pillow when she was almost 5 years old. I told her if she wanted to keep it on her bed she had to give up her lovie. That was all it took.
    Funny though, now, at age 8, she sleeps with a jacket or a tshirt. Doesn’t have to be the same one, she just wants something to smell. It is so much more of the smell than anything for her. I so wish I could take back the first year of her life and have her in my arms that whole time so she had me as her comfort instead of some blankie.

  7. Jerusha says:

    Our son came to us with a very misshapen head from lying on his back all the time. One of his self-soothing actions was to cover his head with a blanket and rock violently back and forth. We felt it was important to get him sleeping on his tummy as soon as we could. Since the orphanage did not give us a blanket (or tell us this) we did not provide him with a new blanket, and it wasn’t too long before he was comfortable sleeping on his tummy. Fast-forward about 9 months when he received a couple of stuffed animals as gifts–a bear and a dolphin. He became obsessed with carrying them around, and when he was angry at being told “no” or upset for any other reason, he would reject any parental comfort and go looking for his “fish” or bear. Call it instinct or wisdom, but it was pretty clear we needed to promote his coming to us for comfort, so I hid the stuffed animals for a while. It’s easy to look back and question our decisions; we can only walk in the light we have at the time. In our case I know our attachment has greatly improved since then, not to mention his head looking better. 🙂

  8. kelleyn says:

    I would probably give in, but then I have an 18 month old who doesn’t sleep through the nigh because I am such a softie. I know you have another child who is adopted, but does your daughter know other children who have been adopted from China that she could talk too. 4 is probably hard because they have no real understanding and have a hard time processing all the information. Good luck! I am sure she will eventually grow out of it! Our son had a paifier until he was 4 and then the dentist told him how bad they were. He came home and threw them all in the trash without my promting him too.

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